Sunday, August 17, 2008

Running Down a Roadrunner

This morning on my way to do some errands, I saw our neighborhood roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) making his rounds. I'm fairly sure this is a young bird; I've only seen him around for the last few months. Unfortunately, he was hopping awkwardly and holding one foot oddly. I grabbed the handy phone and called my sister-in-law the founder of and veterinarian at the New Mexico Wildlife Center for advice.

From there I was referred to Shirley Kendall the resident Albuquerque roadrunner paramedic. Basically, the trick is to take a sheet, throw it over the bird, go in under the sheet with your hands and grab the beast. Then put it in box with a lid for transport to the wildlife medical experts.

For those of you who have never met a roadrunner, they are fascinating birds--extremely fleet of feet and, somewhat like a pheasant, capable of bursts of flight. They also have a 2" beak that can dispatch rattle snakes. I was more than a little hesitant to go mano-a-mano with the bird and its bill until Jack Kendall reassured me that they only used them on lizards and snakes, not humans.

The neighbor's boy Connor volunteered to help and we set off with a blue sheet and a banker's box. We found the bird straight away just at the end of the cul de sac and implemented our strategy. That strategy consisted primarily of keeping the bird from getting into someone's backyard where it would be almost impossible to follow.

The first thing we learned is that a road runner with one broken leg can hop faster than a human, even a very fit 14 year old, can run. He literally left us in the dust. Our only hope was to come at him from two directions and surround him.

It led us across the street into a Euonymus hedge, up into a Ponderosa pine, across an 8" courtyard wall, and very nearly over a fence. Connor deftly out flanked the bird and chased him back into the front yards. Whenever we thought we had him cornered, he'd escape using some narrow gap in our two-man perimeter.

It was only when Connor's father Joe arrived that we started to make better progress. Essentially, we wore the fellow out. It led us on a merry chase (I'm sure that with an injured leg, it wasn't merry for him). At one point it dashed into a sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) and Joe was able to throw the sheet over the entire plant. The three of us anchored the edges and then I blindly groped under the edge to find the poor guy.

He or she weighed almost nothing, maybe 8-12 oz. I didn't want to further traumatize the bird by inspecting the leg, so we just placed him carefully in our box, where I allowed myself one photo. Connor and I drove up to the Taco Bell on 4th St and did the handoff to Jack, today's on-call animal ambulance driver.

By now our roadrunner is Shirley's capable hands and with luck the leg can be repaired. After all, the road runner is our state bird.

Stay tuned for further medical updates.


Schlepp said...

The wildlife paramedic just called. Apparently our roadrunner was struck by a car. Not only did he have a broken tibia, but significant internal injuries as well. He died on the operating table.

Linda said...

Sorry, I pressed the wrong button. I had expressed sympathy for the roadrunner and also asked for help with tomatoes. I have had success in the past with garden tomatoes, but these are patio, planted in large pots. They've gotten tall, even though they haven't needed stakes. I've cut the suckers, but the fruit is split and small. No real insects, but a fairly wet summer with several weeks of severe heat. Suggestions?

Schlepp said...

From my days at NMSU Horticulture I know that chile peppers have the same problem. Splitting fruits come from abrupt changes in soil moisture. Keep the plants uniformly watered. They split when the fruit absorbs too much water after a dry bit and the flesh expands faster than the skin.
See also .

Re: Small fruit. Any number of stressors are possible, but my guess for tomatoes in pots is fertilization. Try a fertilizer with a low nitrogen value (the first of the NPK numbers) and a high potassium value (second value). There probably are commercial tomato fertilizer mixes available at your local nursery or garden store.

Mom Thumb said...

Thank you. That makes sense about the splitting, given that we had several soaking rains. Also, I had plant food in the pots, but not fertilizer with the nitrogen and potassium values you mentioned. I'll try that.